Davenport Childcare Center connects Hilltown kids during their earliest years

  • Snack time for Elliot Scully-Henry and his classmates at Davenport. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Brigley, who grew up one of 15 siblings, has been focused on child care her whole life. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Elliott Sojkowski has a snack at Davenport Child Care in Chesterfield. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Henry Baker, above, enjoys a picture book at Davenport while Gabriel Dalton, left, plays in the sandbox. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS PHOTOS

  • The Davenport Childcare Center and Preschool offers convenient, affordable care for Hilltown residents, parents say. Above Brooke Harrison and Emerson Judd get ready to go outdoors. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Therese Brigley, who is the director of Davenport Child Care in Chesterfield, cleans tables after snacks at the day care. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Therese Brigley, who is the director of Davenport Childcare Center and Preschool in Chesterfield, helps Henry Baker into his jacket. With them are Calvin Gorham and Gabriel Dalton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/26/2017 4:05:52 PM

Therese Brigley of West Chesterfield is the ultimate mother hen.

“Don’t throw the grass,” she says gently to 4-year-old Rory Snape, as the child giggles and gathers fists full of ammunition.

Brigley, 57, draped in a flannel shirt, is sitting on a picnic table in the center of the playground at Davenport Childcare Center and Preschool, which she founded 20 years ago. One of 15 siblings, she’s been looking after children her whole life.

“I love watching kids grow up,” she says. 

She opened this place in Chesterfield to fill a need for child care in the Hilltowns where such care was scarce.

 “When I started doing this there was no other child care in town,”she says.

Rory, an exuberant child in a purple hoodie, tosses the grass at a boy nearby, but the friend takes it well, smiling and running away. She and most of the other children on this playground are neighbors, just as Brigley envisioned. They likely will grow up together, go to the same schools, and in some cases, form life-long friendships. 

“It’s great because you can feel real isolated up in the Hilltowns and for my kids to make friends at such a young age — I think that is valuable to us,” says Rory’s mother Kim Lyons, who also sends her daughter Parker, 2, to the center.  The family lives just two miles down the road. “It was kind of a no-brainer when we decided to go here,” she says. “It just fits.”

Filling a need

The nonprofit child-care center is a place that many Hilltown residents have come to know as a bastion of community. It’s tucked off of the major artery Route 143 in the woods, far enough back from the road so children can play without danger. Serving children from Cummington, Goshen, Plainfield and Worthington, it shares a building with the Hilltown Community Development Corporation, an organization that aims to improve quality of life for people living in the Hilltowns. It also has a fair number of families who get grants from the CDC to subsidize tuition.

To increase the number of families who can enroll their children here, Brigley is holding a bike riding scholarship fundraiser called Therese’s Trek Saturday at Keyes Perennial Farm, Nursery and Landscaping in Cummington (See below).

This year she only has a few spots left in the preschool classroom. The toddler classroom and the infant room are full with a long waiting list.

In the yard there is a massive sandbox, a few red trikes and piles of toys. Inside, there are two bright classrooms with finger paintings on the walls and more toys. Here, Brigley and seven staffers oversee the care of 29 infants, toddlers and preschoolers. She says it’s the most rewarding job she’s ever had. “You see the children grow and you see what they become.”

Brigley was in nursing school when she got married. But when she gave birth to the first of her two sons, she opened a home day care, starting with just a few neighbors who would drop their off kids.

Eventually, she went to work for a day care center in Belchertown. She stayed there for 10 years until, knowing that Hilltown families are often scrambling for affordable day care, she decided to open her own center back in Chesterfield.

There are preschools in the public elementary schools, but these typically close earlier, so it’s not always ideal for working parents, Brigley says.

Aside from Davenport, there is the Ashfield Community Preschool, but most of the other day-care options are small home-based businesses.

Some parents, who work in Northampton, might consider child care further away from home. Some programs like Smith College’s Center for Early Childhood Education at Fort Hill can run up to $21,470 for a year of fulltime toddler care.

At Davenport, the most a parent can expect to pay is $11,700 per year, says Brigley.

Still, that price is steep for many, so part of Davenport’s mission is to give families some financial wiggle room. Brigley has managed for the past five years to get support through a community development block grant from the Hilltown Community Development Corporation. The grant can help families cut the cost by up 66 percent, she says. There are also vouchers available through the state for child care subsidies (See sidebar below) About one third of families at Davenport get some funding and Brigley is available to coach families through the application process. 

“There is less help out there than people needing help — we see it all the time,” Brigley says. “It makes or breaks the plans that they have …  They are always ecstatic when they find out this funding is available.”

Flexible schedule

Kim Lyons works as a per diem mental health counselor. Her husband, Keith Snape, is water treatment plant manager in Northampton. She said without her family’s subsidy, it would be a struggle for them to find convenient, affordable day care. Without the financial help, she says, she would probably have to limit her daughters’ day-care hours. “It would impact my ability to work.”

Another benefit of having day care center close to home is flexible pick up and drop off times, Lyons says, which accommodate her husband’s work schedule.

But most importantly, she says, she appreciates that her children have fun and are thriving with their peers.

Rory likes to pretend she is a super hero, she says, and always has stories. “She will come home with various newly acquired super powers,” Lyons says. 

She likes that the family can always count on running into friends from Davenport in town, or at annual Hilltown events, like the Cummington Fair.

One emphasis at Davenport, Brigley says, is on kids experiencing their neighborhood. Staff take them for walks through the surrounding woods and incorporate the nature they observe into the lesson plans. The teachers sometimes hike through the woods with the kids to get to the Chesterfield Library, where they have story time. 

“It just helps us feel like we are part of the Hilltown community,” says Lyons.

For more information about Davenport Childcare Center, visit www.davenportchildcare.org.

Lisa Spear can be reached at Lspear@Gazettenet.com.

Therese’s Trek

Therese’s Trek, a bike tour fundraiser for the Davenport Childcare Center and Preschool’s Scholarship fund takes place Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Keyes Perennial Farm, Nursery and Landscaping, 495 Berkshire Trail, Cummington.

There will be three routes of 10, 30 and 60 miles through the scenic hilltowns. It’s $20 for any of the three rides and it includes a BBQ lunch. Riders also get a free T-shirt while they last. 

Pre-registration is not required. 

For more information, call 413-296-4785.


Financial assistance

Hilltown CDC
Day Care Grants

Families who want to apply for day-care grants through the Hilltown CDC must reside in the towns of Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Peru, Plainfield and Worthington. The child-care provider does not need to be located within one of these towns. 

The grant program serves families in which the adults are either working or in school or enrolled in vocational training during child-care hours.

Gross household annual income must be below the following limits: Household of two, $51,200; Household of three, $57,600; Household of four, $64,000; Household of five, $69,150; Household of six, $74,250.

This program is funded by a Community development Block Grant from the Massachusetts department of Housing and Community Development.

For an application, contact program coordinator Steven Herzberg at steven_herzberg@msn.com or call 413-588-6693. 

Childcare Subsidies 

The Department of Early Education and Care helps eligible low-income families find and pay for child care. Eligibility is based on state medium income. The gross household income must be at or below 50 percent of the state median income (SMI) and may not exceed 85 percent of the SMI at reassessment.

To check income eligibility and to apply, visit http://bit.ly/22uzXOR.

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